By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
Parent-child relationships have provided material for lots of stories, especially in cinema. Despite this saturation, they still manage to resonate with audiences, especially when handled well. Rock Dog is another example of such a story that can still touch the hearts of people, regardless of the fact that its story has been told before many times and in slightly different versions. Based on the Chinese graphic novel Tibetan Rock Dog by Zheng Jun, this movie tells the story of a music-loving dog who wants a different life from the one his father desires for him. This animated musical, which features an outstanding voice cast, is certain to entertain family members of all ages.
Tibetan Mastiff Bodi (Luke Wilson) has been groomed and trained all his life to take up the mantle of guardian to a village of sheep who need protection from wolf predators. His father Khampa (JK Simmons) has happily and proudly held that mantle and wants him to take over the family business. However, Bodi’s heart simply does not belong to his father’s profession or life. He wishes to explore a life beyond the confines of his mountain home and pursue his real passion–music. Khampa eventually and reluctantly agrees to allow his son to pursue his dreams in the big city where Bodi hopes to learn from rock superstar Angus Scattergood (Eddie Izzard). Unfortunately, the egotistical and self-involved star refuses to take the young musician as his protege. Also, when a wolfpack leader named Linnux (Lewis Black) gets word of Bodi’s departure, he hatches a plot to capture Bodi and use him to attack the village.
Adapted by writers Denise Bradley, Vicente Di Santi, Will Finn, Carolyn Gair, Nicole McMath, Kurt Voelker, and writer/director Ash Brannon, Rock Dog may not be all that original, but presents an important, dependable message that all children need to hear. The encouragement to pursue one’s aspirations and dreams with courage and conviction is a moral that never gets old, and always needs reinforcement now and in future generations. Rock Dog provides an enjoyable, modern medium for children to receive this lesson and does so with humor and much heart. That is not to say that the film is absolutely perfect, but this will probably matter little to younger audiences and will only be apparent to the teens and adults accompanying them. The humor doesn’t always work with a slight, over-reliance on cartoonish pratfalls and character cliches, but enough does to amuse all age levels.
The film does have some delightful and catchy new songs to keep people’s toes tapping and a few other recognizable tunes that are pleasing to the ears and soul. The entire voice cast offers excellent work also. Luke Wilson brings a sweet, wide-eyed enthusiasm to Bodi. JK Simmons is absolutely perfect as his gruff, tough, but caring father Khampa. Eddie Izzard portrays the arrogant, but jaded Angus Scattergood with his signature dry sardonic wit, and Lewis Black brings his anger and intensity to the wicked villain Linnux. The film also features great performances by Kennan Thompson, Mae Whitman, Jorge Garcia, and Matt Dillon. The incomparable Sam Elliott lends his golden voice to the character Fleetwood Yak who also serves as the movie’s narrator. So despite its weaknesses, the film definitely has positive points.
And it is upon these strengths that I recommend this movie as a solid matinee feature for families. Rock Dog‘s lessons are important ones that both children and their parents need to hear. Parents might grumble a little that they’ve heard it all before, but I find it hard to believe that this delightful movie won’t, at the very least, bring some smiles to their faces and some joy to their day. Children should certainly find joy in the humorous adventures of a dog pursuing his dreams of rock and roll, and this pleasure for both child and parent should make for a lovely time of bonding.